The Joys of Reception



I’ll be doing some editing work on the OU’s own Classical Reception journal over the next few weeks, so Reception is on my mind.

What is Classical Reception? Well, it’s the combination of Classics with whatever your hobby happens to be. (That isn’t an official definition, by the way, so don’t quote me…!)

Many years ago, when I was young, before the elbow patches on my jacket grew patches of their own, ‘Reception’ was a rude word. People would talk about it in the pub after a few drinks had lowered their inhibitions, but it wasn’t an appropriate topic of conversation within the Department. I knew academics who spent their weekends researching the use of Roman motifs by the Third Reich, or the reflections of Roman constitutional change in the Star Wars movies; then on Monday morning they would emerge from their sheds, blinking in the unfamiliar light of day, and go back to their proper research.

How things have changed, in only a couple of decades! Today we have classicists who actually celebrate their interest in the classical resonances of the Whedonverse, and who organise conferences with likeminded academics – openly, in public, without dark glasses and a false moustache. With the rise of the Great ‘Interdisciplinary’ Buzzword, all doors are open to the intrepid classicist.

Naturally, a body of theory has arisen to give this intellectual shift some academic credibility; and when writing about Reception it’s important to situate your approach properly within this emerging disciplinary code. That’s a serious business, and requires the appropriate vocabulary, as well as in-depth critical engagement. However, it can’t quite hide the gleeful sense of fun we get from rampaging around like overeducated puppies, sticking our noses into everyone else’s scholarly territory. The growing credibility of Reception has given classicists a whole bunch of new things to say, and new audiences to annoy.

The great thing about Reception is that it’s not just entertaining to pursue for research purposes; it’s also fun to read. A single edition of a Reception journal will cover all sorts of things, from the serious to the silly, across a vast range of cultures, media and languages, written by people who are passionate about their topics. That’s why Reception sites, like market stalls, are worth visiting from time to time: you never quite know what you might pick up.

Here’s a round-up of some eclectic Reception stalls for you to browse – with the OU journal first, since I’m rather attached to it:


New Voices in Classical Reception Studies, an open access journal published by the Open University. One edition a year, when we manage to get around to it.


Classical Receptions Journal from Oxford University Press. Lots to read, since this journal is nearly 10 years old.


Eidolon; not at all politically correct, but full of interesting and debatable ideas, and an easy way to waste several hours once you get hooked!


Classics Confidentialsome entertaining videos to watch in the Reception category.



Let me know if you have other favourite Reception sites – or if you have your own Reception passion!


Cora Beth Knowles

5 thoughts on “The Joys of Reception

  1. Oh dear, looks like you’ve opened up that jar that gets everybody to admit to their hidden childish reasons for their classical interests! As it’s the weekend I’ll go along with it…

    When I was a kid, one of the things my dad did (like most fathers I imagine) was to induct me into the world of comics. The only one I really took an interest in was The Flash, a guy who got struck by lightning and obtained super speed powers. I didn’t realise until years later that he was a modern American take on Hermes-Mercury, which was obvious really since the original Flash from the 50s even wore the same winged boots and hat, albeit brought up to date as a winged World War Two helmet.

    These days I tend justify my boyish interest in The Flash through a reception window as the latest version of the archetype:

    Thoth – Egypt
    Hermes – Greece
    Mercury – Rome
    Odin – Scandinavia
    Woden – Anglo Saxon
    Flash – North America

    There are many coincidences in my life with these figures, which are probably just subliminal suggestions I’ve followed.
    For instance, on the more arty side of my classical studies, I play the tortoise shell lyre, which Hermes is said to have invented according to the Homeric Hymns. Ancient Flash Thrash music!
    Another funny thing, Barcelona, the city I moved to, has legends that it was founded by Herakles and Hermes. In fact, there are more statues and images of Hermes here than any other figure, and nobody seems to notice them but me. I live in Flashopolis!

    However, I do have to admit to a bit of that old fashioned classics prejudice you mentioned. Is it just a bit of fun and not really “serious” research? There are already plenty of classical reception studies on superheroes and I have no real desire to add to them. I know a classicist who did her dissertation on Wonder Woman, which is at least a legitimate choice with its connection to contemporary issues of gender politics and women’s empowerment. I’m not sure one on Hermes-Flash would have as much to say on anything relevant to us today though.

    Recently, while in Greece, I couldn’t resist picking up a little statue of Hermes, which let’s be honest, is an adult version of the Flash action figures I had as a child (and still have somewhere at my parents house). It seems then, that Hermes is my deity… whether I believe in him or not!


  2. I’m a bit jealous that you’ve got a personal deity, Leigh: I want one!

    I know that Reception and Superheroes has been pretty exhaustively covered: but it’s the sort of area that continues to appeal to the geeks amongst us. So if you ever get around to writing the Flash/Hermes book, I’ll be in the queue to buy it.

    I’m more of a tv/movie sci-fi geek than a comic book reader – that’s my embarrassing Reception secret. One of these days I’ll get around to writing a ‘Firefly’ article: but then I may have to change my name and flee the country…!


  3. I’d never heard of Firefly, the full series is on youtube so I’ve had a quick watch. Looks quite different to the usual space shows. I guess human space exploration would be somewhat like the wild west as the furthest outpost of colonisation, so it has an interesting theme. What connections did you make to classics? I’m picking up Whedon’s similar pessimistic vibe on the human condition “nothing will change in the future: technology will advance, but we will still have the same political, moral, and ethical problems as today” (wikipedia).


  4. Hmm… well, my hypothetical paper would probably start with the base planet of the urbanised empire of the Alliance – called Londinium – and go galloping off in the direction of Calgacus and Mons Graupius. But I’m resisting the temptation!

    Firefly’s a modern cult classic: well worth a watch if you’ve a day or two free…!


  5. Hello Cora Beth! Although not a “true-blue” classicist, this is going to be invaluable!! Brushed on reception with a very tongue in cheek(y) paper for a local classics conference a number of years ago – the god Pan from Arcadia to cyberspace (via graffiti in the Egyptian Eastern Dessert). Based on on a wicked, satyrical (!) video clip of a dancing pan statue (Stayin’ Alive/Billie Jean). We rocked the auditorium!!!

    I work mainly in symbolism in Egyptology, and tentatively embarking on a PhD study of the 2019 New York Met opera Akhnaten by Philip Glass. Looking at the symbolism of costuming and set design as opposed to the “real deal” as received by the modern audience who may not be familiar with Egyptology and the Amarna period. Just starting with preparatory reading on reception studies. Not much in my field though. Would value input down the track….

    My personal deity is the Egyptian Seshat, female counterpart to Thoth (scribe) as the chronicler of the Pharaohs ,,, originated as a belly-dance alter-ego (!!! my midlife crisis) and then pseudonym for a regular column for the local ancient Egyptian society newsletter. Seshat is represented in human form with a star above her head.

    Looking forward to learning more about this marginalized field of study!


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